“Many peoples frightfully flee from their home, because they are frightened to be taken away by midnight by the Indonesian army. I plead to the people of Australia to be frank and fair and see us as we are; the Achehnese, the Sundanese, the Javanese, the Balinese, the Bugis, the Timorese, the Moluccans and the West Papuans. We want our rights for self-determination, to be free from the yoke of the Republic of Indonesia, and to be the masters in our own lands. Please be human and do not let the Indonesian army continue their massacre from Sabang to Merauke every day.
Please stop the extremely human right abuses that still going on in front of you now. You as the closest witness in this area can tell the peoples in the world that we do not go to other countries and terrorize them. It is the Indonesian soldiers who come and terrorize us, rob our natural resources etc, and kill us in our own home. “
This was the conclusion of a document titled ” to the people of Australia”, authored by Dr. Husaini Hasan, undated, but thought to be issued in middle 1999, and posted on the website of Free Aceh Movement (ASNLF).
After the murderous bombing that occurred at a nightclub frequented by Australian tourists, and in the absence of evidence leading to the perpetrators, it is abnormal that despite the complexity of the Indonesian society, many important components of its tissue have been omitted or merely dismissed only to focus on some Islamist factions. Yet, the latter may be not the sole to feel some violent resentment toward Jakarta’s central authority, and particularly toward those who are suspected to be its partners and accomplices. The above-quoted text shows at least that this may be the case of Australia.
One of the first things to know about Indonesia is that the Islamists are not alone in the field. The Indonesian case seems more resembling the Russian than the Arab countries that have been apparently struck by the same kind of terrorism: Tunisia, Algeria, and Egypt. Though all these countries have a common feature, which consists in producing enough of internal violence against their citizens to turn some of them into terrorists, they have not the same goals. But, it is obvious that in the light of their need of assistance from the West, the terrorist business may be quite profitable: If Washington, or its Western allies are not enough convinced to give more assistance to Mr. Ben Ali (Tunisia), or Bouteflika (Algeria), or Mubarak (Egypt) etc, perhaps would they be more willing to help, if they feel that there are “common interests” following “common pains”. Thus, a bombing targeting the Western tourists in Luxor (Egypt), or Jerba (Tunisia), or the French (in Algeria), may be more persuading than the diplomatic palaver.
It is noticeable that the “failure” in tackling the terrorist problem in most of these countries is a corollary of another more consistent and chronic failure: that of democratizing the society. All of those states complain about what happened to them: they are “bypassed” by the terrorists, although their security forces almost outnumber the ordinary citizens!
In the case of Russia and Indonesia, there is a great hope that the West not only condones the “muscular power” of repression used by their governments, but also gives other kinds of assistance (financial, economical, logistic, etc), which would make of the Westerners the accomplices in the oppression of ethnic and /or religious minorities. It is not bad in this context to put in the same bag independentist claims and terrorist activity. All the roads lead to Rome, and it happens that in 99% of the cases, “Rome” would be scared and thus would hasten to open generously its purse: Wasn’t the Pakistani government the first supporter of the Taleban? Now, Pakistan is also one of the first beneficiaries of the Western aid… thanks to September 11! Coincidence or calculation?
To come back to Indonesia, very little is known about the armed Free Acheh Movement GAM (Gerakan Acheh Merdeka), but some sources indicate that it now consists of two rival factions. The split between them is being exploited by Jakarta, which claims to have entered into negotiations with one while the other loudly denounced the notion of compromise. The signatory of the text with which we started this story, Hassan Husaini, is the leader of the movement that split from the initial GAM, led by Hasan di Tiro from his base in Nordsborg, a suburb of Stockholm, Sweden.
Sources differ on which of these two groups is more accommodating toward Jakarta. On the one hand, Indonesian military spokespersons say Husaini and his “revolutionary Islamic” group – based in Malaysia- is the more uncompromising. On the other hand, the allegations of having made deals with the Indonesian military have mostly been leveled at precisely this Husaini group.
Like the problem between Russia and Chechnya, the people of Acheh consider the central authority in Jakarta as a foreign colonizer, against which a war of independence is rightly waged. In their “declaration of independence” issued in December 4, 1976, it is said:
The Javanese are alien and foreign people to us Achehnese Sumatrans. We have no historic, political, cultural, economic or geographic relationship with them.” Furthermore, ” colonialism, either by white, Dutch, Europeans or by brown Javanese, Asians, is not acceptable to the people of Acheh, Sumatra”.
It happens that either in Indonesia or in Russia, the problem of the ethnic minority’s autonomic ambition is mingled with some kind of Islamic extremism. If these minorities identify with Islam as a religion, their struggle for independence is not necessarily directed against the West, though. But it is in the interest of Moscow and Jakarta to claim the contrary. Those who pretend that this is also the problem of the West – since it is a terrorist question- hope to make everybody in Europe and the USA forget the other dimension of the problem, which is the struggle for independence.
But let’s recall that in the first half of the previous century, the struggle against colonization took also the aspect of “Islamic terrorism” in all North Africa. This is a problem well known by the French. When colonization ended, nobody heard anymore about Islamic terrorism in these countries, until the authoritarian regimes of Algeria and Tunisia re-produced it again, and claimed more assistance from the West, betting that France -for instance- would rather support a “dictatorial” regime than see its territory overwhelmed by illegal immigrants. And to some extent it worked!
It worked so well, that when you wonder: for who profits terrorism in such or such country, you will find easily the answer: the State.
Who, but the State, failed in finding a way out from the political impasse through a democratic process? Who but the State oppressed the opponents and forced them to choose between jail and armed struggle? Who, but the State, would take advantage from the expected Western assistance if a “terrorist case” were found to be plaguing the system and threatening the Western interests? And Last – but not least- what would better bring (economic and political) support to the dwindling authoritative regimes than international terrorism growing out of a local political struggle?
Think it over.
Hichem Karoui is a writer and journalist living in Paris, France.